Standings: 25th in NHL; 7th in Central Division
The Winnipeg Jets have had success and downfalls since their relocation from Atlanta in 2011. Out of the 5 years since a professional hockey team has returned to Manitoba, the Jets have only managed to break through to the postseason on one occasion. Unfortunately, even that playoff berth was shortly lived as a decisive 4-0 series against the Anaheim Ducks would knock them out of the first round.
The 2015-16 season saw the departure of long time team Captain, Andrew Ladd and a 5 year extension for veteran defenseman, Dustin Byfuglien. The Jets were far behind in scoring as they looked on at a -24 goal differential at the end of the season, and even 10 goals behind the league average in total goals scored over the course of the 82 game season.
With a new season, comes new hopes however. A new Captain has been anointed as Blake Wheeler will be sporting the ‘C’. Despite owning the 5th worst record in the league, the Jets were able to select second overall, thanks to the Draft Lottery. With the pick, the Jets were able to select perhaps the new ‘Finnish Flash’, Patrik Laine.
Who to watch out for
Crowned new Captain of the Winnipeg Jets, Blake Wheeler will look to lead his team to the playoffs for only the second time since returning to Winnipeg in 2011. The 29 year old Right Winger is coming off a team leading 82 game, 78 point season. He ranked second in goals scored (26) only to Mark Scheifele (29, and lead the team in assists (54). Wheeler managed to not only lead his team in points, but was also able to post 57 out of his 78 point on 5v5 time. With perhaps a little of extra added ice time and talent around him during the 2016-17 season, Wheeler is a player to certainly keep an eye on to make a name in Manitoba.
After hovering around a 0.5 point-per-game pace in his first two NHL seasons, Mark Scheifele exploded on to the scene in the 2015-16 season. The 23 year old Center finished out his best season of his young career yet with a whopping 61 points in 71 games, second to only the previously mentioned Blake Wheeler. If in the event that Scheifele could have stayed healthy and played a full 82 game season, he very would could have come within 8 points of Wheeler and challenged for the team lead in points. A dynamic Center and likely a building block for this team for years to come. It should be a scary thought to the rest of the league to see what Mark and incoming Left Wing talent, Patrik Laine, could do on a line together, should they be paired.
The former 9th overall draft pick from 2014 was finally able to skate his first full season with the Jets. While showing several flashes of brilliance through the first 72 games of his career, Ehlers will look to build off of his 38 point rookie campaign. At only 20 year of age, Ehlers will likely still take on 3rd line minutes (pending injuries) but has shown that he can play up in the lineup also. Ehlers will have all the chances to grow under veterans such as Wheeler, Stafford, Perreault, and likely learn a thing or two from new teammate Patrik Laine. The young winger managed to post 205 points in 114 games over 2 seasons in the QMJHL with the Halifax Mooseheads before making the transition to the NHL.
Currently, the Jets can only thank the World Cup of Hockey for a chance for Laine play against some of the best players in the world. During this tournament Laine will get the chance to transition to the smaller ice and prepare for the season in a more intense fashion. The transition and competition could prove very useful and should everything go according to plan, Laine should hit the ground running at the start of the opening faceoff for the 2016-17 season.
Still waiting to sign a new contract while playing in the World Cup of Hockey for Team North America, Trouba is a player that should be locked up long term once the tournament comes to an end. Trouba should still be viewed as one of the better young defensemen in the league at 22 years of age and should within the near future, be a top pairing defenseman. Throughout his NHL tenure so far, Jacob has posted 72 points in 211 NHL games for the Jets and he will likely see a comparable contract signed to Seth Jones and Tyson Barrie. I wouldn’t be surprised though if Trouba isn’t locked up long-term and signed for around $6 million AAV. Though he took a step back after posting an average of 0.45 point per game pace over his first two seasons, a mere 21 points over 81 games last year saw his point production cut in half. If Trouba gets the time on ice that he deserves and opportunity, look for a big return on the investment.
Despite a poor performance at the World Cup of Hockey, Dustin Byfuglien will be looked to again in order to help lead the Jets defense and provide some firepower from the blue line and heavy hitting around the rink. The 6’5”, 260 lb. defenseman finished out an impressive 2015-16 season ranking 3rd in points on the Jets roster with 19 goals and 53 points in 81 games. After signing a 5 year, $38 million contract in February, Byfuglien will look to prove his worth on the Jets roster. At 31 years of age, the Jets have to hope that their $7.5m AAV contract still is worth it by the end when Dustin is seeing 36.
The towering 6’8″ defenseman skated his first full season with the Jets this past year. Finally getting back to proving his worth as a defenseman, Myers will look to help patrol the blue line behind Byfuglien and Trouba. After being traded from the Sabres, Myers is back to playing at his Top 4 level and not over his head against opposition. After posting a 52.2 Corsi For Percentage last year and 27 points, Myers should continue to help his team out on the ice and control the defensive zone. Not and offensive talent or anything flashy, Myers should be looked to provide defensive help throughout the 21-22 minutes each night and post a few points along the way.
At 23 years of age, Hellebuyck got his first taste of NHL talent last year as a call up after an injury to Ondrej Pavlec. After going 13-11-1, with a 2.38 GAA and 0.918 SV% in the big leagues, Connor finished out the year back in the AHL where he went finished the year with a collective 13-15-1 record. While his numbers may not show immediate success, the Jets were not exactly the best of teams last year. With success in the AHL, Hellebuyck could push Pavlec out of the Jets organization and to split time with the big club. Though it may not be immediate, I expect Hellebuyck to make a strong push this upcoming season.